Like it or not, e-commerce is a fact of life for virtually all retailers, as the story I am about to tell you shows. A good website with an efficient checkout process (and good products!) are essential in any e-commerce venture; but good old-fashioned service and paying attention to details are, ultimately, what matters.
My daughter is just starting out with her first “real” bicycle with gears, caliper brakes, etc. As this is her first bike, we wanted to get something that she could learn with and grow into, but not something that she needed to be overly precious about. Naturally, the internet was the first place that I turned to in order to identify how much such a bike should cost and the options that were available.
We didn’t want to spend too much on this first bike and based on some initial research, we set an initial budget of around $350 – $450. I did some further research and identified a couple of well known brands that offered bikes in this range and then a local supplier whose website listed a range of the selected brands. They appeared to have a couple of dozen options available at this price point, so I felt quite safe to just drop in and see the range. I also checked in on the website of the other local shop, where I had bought my bike a couple of years ago and from which I had had reasonable service. I knew that they were a more up-market shop but their website indicated they also had a small range within our budget.
With our first destination in mind, we returned from a family outing by taking a detour to visit the first shop that we had selected. Unfortunately we were sorely disappointed. After approaching the sales staff and asking about the bikes from their website, we were told that they didn’t have a single one available for less than $550. As the shop was near my office, I asked whether they could get some in for a test ride. Yes, they cheerfully told us, just leave us a 20% deposit and they would be happy to order our selected model. But, I objected, how do we know that we want that model sight unseen? Their response was, oh that’s OK you don’t need to take it but you will forfeit half your deposit. My response – forget it.
The other store was just a short drive away, so we went straight there. I had also checked their website and had a good idea of their range which I knew was going to be more expensive. However, as an existing customer, I had some expectations of their service which had been very positive in the past. After a short browse around their available range, we waited at the counter where five staff members were busily occupied with repairs and engaged in deep conversation with a child of around nine years old. Not a single one even acknowledged the three of us at the counter, no eye contact, nothing. After about five minutes my wife asked whether anyone was serving and, after having to ask three times, they responded that they were busy with repairs just now. My response – forget it.
That evening after some more brief research to find other retailers’ websites, we identified another bike shop, The Bike Barn, located some 20 kilometres away. I checked their website and they had a very large range. As we had already been bitten with the out of stock situation, I rang ahead to check that they had stock available. When we arrived, Joel immediately greeted us and then spent around 30 minutes taking us through a series of different models, discussing the pros and cons of each. In the end we left with a new bike, spending more than our anticipated budget, and very happy with both our purchase and experience.
While e-commerce immediately brings to mind the online experience, this story shows that great websites can all come to nothing unless the in-store experience is a positive one that is also seamlessly integrated with the online experience.
The outcome is that one store has gained a loyal customer who is prepared to travel 20 kilometres again, one local store lost a potential new customer and, worse still, a store where I had some loyalty lost an existing customer.